If the very well authenticated rumors are to be believed Google is about to invest a billion dollars into Elon Musk’s SpaceX program. If they do it will be another step along the road Google has set its self on to bring the Internet to everyone. The plan would almost certainly involve developing and launching a network of low earth orbit satellites which would be capable of beaming web signal up and down so that users withing reach would be able to connect. It’s a grand idea and one fraught with many technical challenges but one that fits Google’s affection for “moonshot” programs with huge goals. Google is already investigating supplying internet service through high altitude balloons and drones so it makes sense to add satellite to the equation.
I had the distinct misfortune of being at the receiving end of Internet delivered by satellite a couple of years back and it was just awful. I’m sure Google plans to do it differently or better but the experience I had was so bad that I simply got used to not having Internet at home most the month….it was weirdly freeing.
Given that much of what we think of as the civilized world is already served by ISPs of some kind some might wonder why Google would bother. The fact is that there is a big win to be had. Much of the emerging world wants to get on line but lacks the infrastructure to do so. The Impact of cell service bringing phones to areas without any copper wire in place has been dramatic. Whilst it would be nice to think that Google’s motives are humanitarian (and they probably are in some part) the commercial opportunity is considerable. New internet users means long term usage fees and more search users means more advertising dollars to fill Google’s coffers. Google holds such a strong monopoly in most markets that the only way they can make more than relatively minor incremental increases is to generate new users themselves. Even though emerging markets lack the kind of marketing dollars we see in the west they are …well emerging. eventually there will be huge revenue opportunity and Google wants to the guy in charge and benefiting from that growth.